The plot of Othello revolves around a Moorish general who has achieved great military feats on behalf of the state of Venice. The action hinges on jealousy: in the opening scene, we learn of the flagbearer Iago’s rage that Othello has denied him promotion in favour of Michael Cassio. Iago goads the Venetian senator Brabantio into racist horror by telling him that his daughter Desdemona has eloped with Othello. When Brabantio accuses Othello of seducing her by sorcery, Othello and Desdemona eloquently describe how they fell in love. Brabantio disowns her.

Meanwhile, news arrives of a Turkish attack on Cyprus, which Othello is sent to repel. Desdemona accompanies him with Iago’s wife Emilia, and Iago persuades Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona, to join them. Iago delivers a soliloquy revealing his hatred of Othello, a rumour that Othello has slept with Emilia, and his plan to make Othello believe Desdemona is betraying him with her friend Cassio. After the Turkish fleet is wrecked in a storm, Iago engineers a drunken brawl between Roderigo and Cassio, and Othello strips Cassio of his rank. Desdemona appeals on Cassio’s behalf and Iago takes the opportunity to sow the seeds of doubt about the relationship in Othello’s mind. Desdemona offers a handkerchief to bind Othello’s aching head and, when he drops it, Emilia recognises it and gives it to Iago, who plants it at Cassio’s lodging and uses it to send Othello into a paroxysm of jealousy. Iago convinces Roderigo he only has to kill Cassio to enjoy Desdemona. He also convinces Othello to kill Desdemona. Othello strangles Desdemona. Emilia enters the room and Desdemona revives long enough to tell her that Othello is not the killer. When Othello confesses, they realise Iago’s role. Iago kills his wife, and Othello kills himself. Cassio becomes governor of Cyprus and is advised to torture Iago to death.

Click here for a short PDF summary of the sources relating to Othello from 'Discovering Literature: Shakespeare'.

William Shakespeare
Q1 (1622); F (1623)
Renaissance drama
Literary period:

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